In Boston, according to the police and public health commission, 50% of gun violence is driven by approximately 450 young people. ICW's program participants did not end up on this list of people most likely to “shoot or be shot” due to their own volition, but instead due to America’s legacy of slavery, racial terror, segregation, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of people of color.
Our students have been affected by mass incarceration in their families and communities. Most have been shot, nearly all have done significant time in jail. They’re born onto a street that society is told to avoid, into a family with an income of less than $10K per year, and with little to no social capital. More than 50% of our students have seen someone get shot or die before the age of 12. Most have had a family member locked up before them.
Our program participants have been labeled “gang members,” a term that comes with a very specific image that invokes fear and perpetuates systems of segregation and isolation.
Yet, we’ve embraced some of the toughest “gang members” as they’ve cried over the loss of a friend, stood by their side as tears ran down their face describing the struggles they work to overcome. And, we’ve rejoiced together in the birth of a child, celebrated birthdays and milestones they never thought they’d live to see. We’ve seen the most genuine form of care and love rise in face of tragedy and despair. We’ve seen hope and togetherness conquer when the weight of a system should seemingly crush any one individual or family.
Our program participants are not gang members. They are survivors of trauma, people trying to overcome historical injustices that have led to today’s inequities. They’re people who persevere.
At ICW, through our career track in personal training, we help create economic mobility for people in our program as they begin earning $20-$60 per hour training clients from opposite socio-economic backgrounds. More importantly, this flips power dynamics, bridges social capital, and creates a genuine form of inclusion that disrupts the system of segregation, isolation, and racism that leads to the streets. The people in our program gain access to new networks and opportunities, while our clients gain new insights and perspectives into complex social challenges.
Our approach is unique in that we overlap the direct work with our students with a high paying career, and simultaneously shift clients’ perceptions, allowing networks to merge and communities to become more connected and inclusive. We create impact through our 4-stage model: trust; hope; bridging social capital; economic mobility. Weight training weaves the stages together. It gives us purpose and a reason to reach out to our students; it gives us a place to grow relationships and create hope. Personal training forms a community and network to bridge social capital and create economic mobility.
A LETTER FROM OUR FOUNDER
Our students’ 6-month outlook on life when we meet them is with death or jail. Upon working with ICW, it shifts to pursuing an education, finding a meaningful career, and enjoying a future that wasn’t always guaranteed.
Now in our 11th year, we’ve seen recidivism rates drop from over 80% in the first stage of our model to 8.2% in the 4th stage. We currently have 199 individuals enrolled and have trained over 1,700 personal training clients in the last 4 years. We have trainers making over $70K, and many more who have taken their first vacation ever. They’re paying rent, supporting their families, making it even one day longer out of jail. While our conservative ROI is 6.5, our holistic ROI is greater than 30:1 when factoring in costs on the health care system, legal system, and cost of a single homicide being as much as $17M.
Perhaps the biggest impact, however, is the way our model connects people, provides good options, fosters economic growth, and changes narratives. ICW gives people a place to belong, together. It allows people to benefit from each other’s perspectives to understand context and the history that has led to today’s circumstances. In turn, it helps reframe issues to match the perspective of people living through those issues.
Currently, we’re spending $80B a year to lock people up. But for a problem rooted in segregation, isolation, and racism, perhaps our solution shouldn’t be to segregate and isolate people, first by circumstance as we’re told to avoid “certain” people and places, then by prison - an institution that grew from systemic racism.